2 October 2014

Polar Bear - In Each And Every One


Here is another of the Mercury Music Prize nomination for the 2014 award - Polar Bear is a London experimental Jazz band who have been going since 2004.  They have been going since 2004 and this is their fifth release.  This is not their first time being linked for the Mercury Prize, as they were nominated in 2005 with their second album 'Held On The Tips Of Fingers'.  They are not a name I have came across before if I am totally honest (or remember from the first time they were up for this prize) and whilst I enjoy Jazz music, I must admit that I am more of an alternative rock man.  So as part of my musical odyssey that I started with this blog, it is thing like the Mercury Prize that gives me (and the rest of the team) the chance to listen to music that we would not have the chance to listen to.  So with that said and my limited knowledge of this band the scene on public show let me see what this album is all about....

Starting the album is "Open See"; this track floats across the listen like an ambient sea of very relaxing drone and saxophone.  It has a whale song quality about it and you can get lost in the music, you can be immersed into the sound and relax.  "Be Free" is the second song, this one is a more energetic number which once again disregards the traditional view of Jazz and mixes in some contemporary percussions and the whole thing has a very pulsating vibration that gets the fingers taps and has a couple of sections that remind me of some of the records that I heard from my youth.  A good mixture of old and new school Jazz here.  "Chotpot" is the third track here and feels like it is one of those tracks which could have actually been given a little bit more time.  The random energy of the track reminds me of some of Frank Zappa's work.  Not saying this is Zappa-esque, it is not; the sound is brilliant on this song, but it is not in the style of the great FZ.  It is just out there and on a fine edge between frankly bizarre and pretentious.  The only fault I have is that it ends just a few minutes too soon for my tastes.

"They're All K's And Q's Lucien" is a contender for the most beautiful title of the year.  The music is also not too bad as well.  It is a little less appealing to my senses as "Be Free" and "Chotpot", but the ideas here are given enough time to reach their natural conclusions.  The low rumble in the middle of the song sounds like it could be classed as a brown note and the manic nightmare of the number gathers pace as the song continues towards its big bang and slow bass pulsing ending.  "WW" on the other hand, starts off with a backwards glow and feels like you are going down a golden tunnel of strange images.  I can remember music like this being in my nightmares and the cross between the bizarre and out-there parts of the number will have a few people bemused.  But I know that this song will impress a lot of top jazz fans, it is challenging and a bit bonkers - I like it, it is aggressive and confrontational; it has a splintered beauty that takes a while to engage, but it is worth the wait.  "Lost In Death, Pt. 2" is next, the bass opens this number with beats and the saxophone leading the way.  After the bizarre and edgy "WW", this is almost tame in comparison.  But do not think it is without its own barbed edges, it is just a bit more subtle in its delivery.  The ending is my favourite part of the song to be honest, just brings a smile to my face each time I play it.  "Mailana" is the seventh track on offer here and it is also the longest one on offer.  Starting off a little relaxing, it soon drops into some heavy bass work that will have some people very surprised.  It might not be as confrontational as "They're All K's And Q's Lucien", but it is still unsettling and almost as disturbing as "Chotpot" could have been.  The middle section of the song is a spectacular in itself and keeps the listener hooked to the music.

"Lost In Death, Pt. 1" follows on and it is a much gentler number than "Lost In Death. Pt 1", there is not the chaos that came from the earlier track (what this one was not part two, does not make much sense to me; but then again I am writing about music and not playing it - so what the feck would I know. ;-) ) The relaxed nature of the song is soothing after the last few sections of attack and conquers, but the beauty on show here is mesmerising.  "Life And Life" starts off almost like a noise record, a deluded of feedback and then the reed instrument (it could be a sax, but I do not want to make any further assumptions and there is no information on their website), it goes over like the sun on a golden morning floating over the hills.  The drumming is sparse and dramatic over the pulsing noise and the result is incredibly harsh and destructive, of course I love it.  Penultimate track "Two Storms" is built around a lazy upwards reed loop, subtle bass, followed by the subtle and constant build towards another section of noise nirvana; this is signalled around the minute and half into which the noise comes back up and the wall of sound just erupts again.  By the end when the noise drifts towards void you can understand why it was called "Two Storms".  Ending the album is "Sometimes" which is bass heavy, filled with mournful notes and incredibly depressing; of course, I love it.  It is just feels like the natural way to end this album, if you had something like "Birdland" with a happy slant on the world it would be completely against the rest of the album.  Best to end on a dower and solemn note for this album, it just fits perfectly.

As an award nominated album, I find it hard to think that this could be the all out winner of the Mercury; not because it is not a brilliant record, it is a stunning piece of jazz/noise that will have fans of both genres thoroughly entertained.  It is just a bit too out there to be the award winner in my mind, but Mercury do like to throw the odd curve ball (Roni Size anyone?).  If it was not for the Mercury Prize, I would not have heard this hidden gem of a record.  It is challenging, abrasive and uncompromising in delivery; from beginning to end it has been challenging and the rewards of this album just keep coming with repeat listens.  Out of all the entries I have heard from this year’s list, this is my contender for the dark horse which may take everyone by surprise.  

8 out of ten - Oh, now you have my attention and maybe my money, time and heart

Top track - Be Free

You can purchase the album from Amazon here

You can visit the Polar Bear website here

You can listen to the album here on Spotify

Alternatively, here is a link for our Deezer users

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